From Library Journal
These three books take different approaches to the basic question, How can we live a meaningful life? To find an answer, Vanier (Becoming Human) turns to Aristotle, offering a detailed account of his views on the virtues. Vanier shows that Aristotle based his ethics on a cultivation of individual excellence that did not exclude the values of friendship and life in society. Vanier does not, however, wholly embrace Aristotle, arguing that his system was elitist and needs to be corrected by Christian compassion. Like Vanier, Kekes (The Examined Life) emphasizes the virtues, but his approach to the good life is pluralistic rather than Aristotelian. Arguing that no formalist doctrine such as Kant's can provide universally valid rules for leading a moral life, he instead maintains that the study of admirable individuals furnishes the guidelines we need. Among those Kekes finds worthy of emulation are Montaigne and Thomas More, who balanced public responsibilities with private commitments. Kekes offers a close analysis of their conduct, thereby hoping to convey a sense of how choosing a personal ideal is influenced by general moral constraints. Bell suggests a more personal way of addressing life's meaning, discussing incidents in his own life that may help others find an answer to this question. In particular, he stresses his need to subordinate personal ambition to the Civil Rights Movement. His principled stand involved him in several crucial conflicts, one of which led to his resignation from the faculty of Harvard Law School. (He is now a visiting professor at NYU.) Bell also presents insights on his friendship with women and on religion, again from a personal perspective. These three books are highly recommended for all public libraries.
David Gordon, Bowling Green State Univ., OH
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Bell, law professor and former civil rights lawyer, has repeatedly shown himself a model of principle and conscience. The first black tenured professor in the Harvard Law School, he endured personal sacrifice and criticism after taking a voluntary unpaid leave of absence to protest the school's failure to secure a woman of color in a tenured-track position. Bell provides substantial insight into his struggle to meet what he calls an ethical standard. He admits that an obsession with ambition, even in an altruistic sense, may violate the ethical obligations owed to family. He explores the conflicts of issues in his own religious traditions that he negotiates to reach a higher spiritual awareness often lost in traditional religions. Bell also cites examples of widely known ethically principled individuals--W. E. B. DuBois and Martin L. King Jr., among others--who often strove for higher ethical standards, alone and at great personal cost. His book offers great insight into how an individual seeks to live by the highest of personal standards and ideals. Vernon Ford
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